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Backgrounder: Historical facts of Tibet



China is a unified multi-ethnic country and Tibet is an inalienable part of China. The Tibetans cultivated a close relationship with Han and other ethnic groups from the Chinese interior since ancient times.

    In the 7th century, this relationship reached its peak when Srong-btsan Sgam-po (Songtsan Gambo, the king of the Tubo kingdom who ruled the Tibetan Plateau at that time twice sent envoys to the Tang Dynasty emperor to propose to Princess Wen Cheng who he later married. The Tibetans and Hans had through the marriage of their royal families and various meetings, formed close economic and cultural relations laying the groundwork for the ultimate foundation of a unified nation.

    After Tibet became part of the territory of China in the 13th century, the central governments of the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties and the Republic of China, while assuming the responsibility of approving the local administrative organs, and deciding and directly handling important affairs concerning Tibet, maintained, by and large, the region's original local social setup and ruling body, widely appointed upper-strata ecclesiastic and secular members to manage local affairs, and gave the Tibetan local government and officials extensive decision-making power. This played a historically positive role in safeguarding the unification of the country, but as the feudal autocratic rulers in various periods exercised an ethnic policy marked by ethnic discrimination and oppression, keeping the original social system and maintaining the power of the local ruling class for their administration of Tibet, they did not solve, nor could they possibly solve, the issue of ethnic equality and that of enabling the local people to become masters of their own affairs.

    Even in the first half of the 20th century, Tibet remained a society of feudal serfdom under theocracy, one even darker and more backward than medieval Europe. The ecclesiastical and secular serf owners, though accounting for less than five percent of the population of Tibet, controlled the personal freedom of the serfs and slaves who made up more than 95 percent of the population of Tibet, as well as the overwhelming majority of the means of production. By resorting to the rigidly stratified 13-Article Code and 16-Article Code, and extremely savage punishments, including gouging out eyes, cutting off ears, tongues, hands and feet, pulling out tendons, throwing people into rivers or off cliffs, they practiced cruel economic exploitation, political oppression and mental control of the serfs and slaves. The right to subsistence of the broad masses of serfs and slaves was not protected, let alone political rights.

    After the Opium War of 1840, China was reduced to a semi-colonial, semi-feudal country. Tibet, like other parts of China, suffered from the aggression of imperialist powers, which grabbed all kinds of special privileges by means of unequal treaties, subjected Tibet to colonial control and exploitation, and, at the same time, groomed separatists among the upper ruling strata of Tibet, in an attempt to sever Tibet from China. Therefore, the removal of the fetters of imperialism and feudal serfdom became a historically paramount task for safeguarding the unification of the country and realizing the development of Tibet.

    The founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949 ended the dark history of the semi-colonial, semi-feudal China, realized unification of the country, unity of ethnic groups and people's democracy, and brought hope to the Tibetan people that they could control their own destiny in the large family of the motherland.

    Peaceful liberation laid the foundation for regional ethnic autonomy in Tibet. On May 23, 1951, the "Agreement of the Central People's Government and the Local Government of Tibet on Measures for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet" ("17-Article Agreement" for short) was signed, and Tibet was peacefully liberated. The peaceful liberation put an end to imperialist aggression against Tibet, enabled the Tibetan people to shake off political and economic fetters, safeguarded the unification of state sovereignty and territorial integrity, realized equality and unity between the Tibetan ethnic group and all other ethnic groups throughout the country as well as the internal unity of Tibet, and laid the foundation for regional ethnic autonomy in Tibet.

    In April 1956, the Preparatory Committee for the Tibet Autonomous Region was established in Lhasa, with the 14th Dalai Lama as the chairman, the 10th Panchen Lama the first vice-chairman and Ngapoi Ngawang Jigme the secretary-general. The establishment of the Preparatory Committee enabled Tibet to have a consultative work organ with the nature of a political power, and vigorously promoted the realization of regional ethnic autonomy in Tibet.

    The Democratic Reform cleared the way for regional ethnic autonomy in Tibet. When Tibet was peacefully liberated, in consideration of the reality of Tibet, the "17-Article Agreement," while confirming the necessity for reform of the Tibetan social system, provided that "The Central Government will not use coercion to implement such a reform, and it is to be carried out by the Tibetan local government on its own; when the people demand reform, the matter should be settled by way of consultation with the leading personnel of Tibet." But in face of the ever-growing demand of the people for democratic reform, some people in the upper ruling strata of Tibet, in order to preserve feudal serfdom, and supported by imperialist forces, staged an armed rebellion all along the line on March 10, 1959, in an attempt to separate Tibet from China. On March 28 of the same year, the State Council announced the dismissal of the original local government of Tibet, and empowered the Preparatory Committee for the Tibet Autonomous Region to exercise the functions and powers of the local government of Tibet, with the 10th Panchen Lama as its acting chairman. The Central People's Government and the Preparatory Committee for the Tibet Autonomous Region led the Tibetan people in quickly quelling the rebellion, implemented the Democratic Reform, overthrew the feudal serfdom under theocracy, and abolished the feudal hierarchic system, the relations of personal dependence, and all savage punishments. As a result, a million serfs and slaves were emancipated, and became masters of the country as well as of the region of Tibet, acquired the citizens' rights and freedom specified in the Constitution and law, and swept away the obstacles, in respect of social system, to the exercise of regional ethnic autonomy.

    The establishment of the Tibet Autonomous Region marked the full implementation of the regional ethnic autonomy in Tibet. After the Democratic Reform, the Tibetan people enjoyed all the political rights enjoyed by people of all other ethnic groups throughout China. In 1961, a general election, the first of its kind in Tibetan history, was held all over Tibet. For the first time, the former serfs and slaves were able to enjoy democratic rights as their own masters, and participated in the election of organs of state power at all levels in the region. In September 1965, the First Session of the First People's Congress of the Tibet Autonomous Region was convened, at which the organ of self- government of the Tibet Autonomous Region and its leaders were elected, and the founding of the Tibet Autonomous Region was officially proclaimed.

    The establishment of the Tibet Autonomous Region marked the establishment of the people's democratic power in Tibet and the commencement of exercise of regional ethnic autonomy in an all-round way. From then on, the Tibetan people were entitled to enjoy the right to administer their own affairs in the region and, together with the people throughout the country, embarked on a socialist development road.

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